How might we better use data in the context of service design?

The intersection of data and service design is a challenging and exciting area. Data is a design material that researchers can use to gain a deeper understanding of challenges and create innovative solutions that reach beyond what service design or data alone could achieve. For data practitioners, service design can help widen the perspective, embedding service design approaches to maximise the benefit of data.

Between November 2017 and February 2018, Snook, Urban Tide and North Lanarkshire Council worked together to redesign a data-led service thanks to funding from the Open Data Institute. Innovate UK is providing £6 million over three years to the Open Data Institute (ODI), to advance knowledge and expertise in how data can shape the next generation of public and private services, and create economic growth.

The project focused on the Freedom of Information (FOI) service for the area of non-domestic rates (NDR). Also called ‘business rates’, these are the taxes that businesses pay on the property where their business operates. The project also aimed to create an approach that could be replicated in other areas and inform the overall data publication strategy for the Council.

Sharing the approach

We are sharing the tools created and approaches taken during the project in a toolkit. It builds on the Scottish Government Open Data Resource Pack and is designed to be read alongside this.

Although organisations are willing and often required to open their data, it is a complex process. They must meet their legal requirements to safeguard personal or identifiable data, deal with source systems that make it difficult to extract, and prepare the data for publication. Costs can impact on the viability of the project, especially when competition for funds is high. The idea behind opening data in the context of designing services is that it will allow organisations to generate value that exceeds the costs.

Read and download the toolkit

This toolkit is published under a Creative Common Licence. You can distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon our work as long as you credit the original toolkit.

Who is the toolkit for?

The toolkit focuses on people who are early on in their journey of opening data in the context of service design – the people asking themselves, “Where do I start?”

What do you want to know?

The toolkit doesn’t aim to be an exhaustive resource on open data or on service design. Instead, we invite the reader to explore the resources mentioned in the ‘further reading’ sections. What it does aim to provide is the hands-on tools, activities and supporting materials for those who want to try the approach.

  • What do we need to know before we start?
  • How do we make a plan?
  • How do we reduce the risks for my organisation?
  • How do we assess where we are as an organisation?
  • How do we demonstrate value?
  • How do we build support?
  • How do we choose which service to start with?
  • How do we create the datasets?
  • How do we go about publishing data?
  • How do we evaluate the approach?
  • What next?

Lessons learned

Although local authorities have been making strides towards opening data and despite the wealth of resources to support them, opening data is still a significant challengeOpen data projects are still often presented as ‘cost centres’ for the ‘greater good’. We are arguing that there is an opportunity for local authorities to use data projects to generate new revenues.

As service designers, our default mental model is to work with the end users first – the customers, residents and businesses. In this project, we needed to focus on the ‘inside’ of the service. Given the resource constraints facing local authorities, we were acutely aware we could not create more demand before we had freed up internal capacity to meet that additional demand. It is something we have come across in previous projects such as the Renfrewshire Customer projectDepersonalising data reliably and sustainably is a challenge that exceeds the capabilities of legacy systems and stand in the way of releasing open data.

What do you think?

We see this toolkit as a starting point. This is what we’ve done during the project. We would love to hear from you. Have you tried any of the tools presented here, did they work for you? How can we improve them? Have you tried something different? Could you share it with us? Please email us on